Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Everyone's Worried About the "Image"...

... of the United States. The neo-cons are worried that the United States will look like the pussy of the world unless it goes around blasting the everlovin' shit out of every poor country in the world (as proxies for their real enemies, Russia and China). The liberal side of the fence says that our "image" is hurt by our current failure to work diplomatically with the world.

Neither may be true, since we're long past the point of being able to define terms before embarking on an intellectual examination of the facts. I sometimes get the feeling that this country is being run along the lines of the social strata in the typical suburban high school, but this "image" business is about as slippery as an eel.

Nevertheless, Gallup recently reports that 60% of its respondents think the "image" of the United States has been damaged by the Bush administration's approach to the rest of the world. Again, image isn't well-defined, but one could think, reasonably, that such means that 60% of US citizens believe the world no longer believes the horseshit we've sold ourselves about ourselves.

If that seems unkind, recall that the only world citizens who believe that the President of the United States is the "leader of the free world" are those residing in the United States. (There's something very understandable in that, given that only Americans would ignore the implications of the world being led by a moron.)

We're a bit like the bully on the block who's been in charge of the neighborhood long enough that he's begun to believe his own bullshit. He's big enough and mean enough to not have any immediate challengers, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the kids like him for it, nor does it mean that they won't eventually figure out that putting aside their own disputes and cooperating with each other is the means of terminating the bully's command. The bully says, "I can kick the shit out of any of you, and my big brother, Nuke, is behind me if I can't, so let's all make nice and do what I say."

In one way or another, this is what the US has been since the end of WWII--that's the destiny our leaders have told us is ours. The more liberal notion--that diplomacy is the cure--is only partly true, because the bully is still there in the background, and that diplomacy, too often, has still been to gain some advantage. The economic power of the US is continually used, through treaty, to obtain even more economic power for its corporations. (NAFTA is a prime example of the use of diplomacy for ulterior motive--by almost every measure, no one's benefitted from NAFTA except the multinationals.)

Part of this obsession with our international image, however much it is rooted in notions of American exceptionalism, is clearly a manipulation of internal politics. Projecting US power outwards is so much simpler than looking inward, applying some political introspection to our own problems. Even the seemingly domestic problem of immigration is transmuted into a war of wills with Mexico (though Mexican illegal immigrants amount to a little less than one-half of the illegal immigration problem).

We so want to believe our own bullshit, and we want, desperately, for others to believe it, too. We're looking the other way while an authoritarian government is stripping our own rights from us--and, make no mistake, that is what is happening--while our leaders extol the virtues of spreading freedom and democracy in those places _we_ determine are in need of same. Now, anyone who makes excuses for that sort of hypocrisy believes their own bullshit, just like that bully.

As a nation, we're rather mediocre by most first-world standards, except two: military power and our desire to consume as much of the world's resources as is possible. Despite the "we're #1" rah-rah stuff, we're sicker than some of our foreign contemporaries, all the while having the highest per capita health-care costs in the world. We certainly aren't top of the list, either, for literacy, freedom of the press, freedom from corruption in government, and are well down the list of industrialized nations on matters of eradicating poverty, improving workplace rights, level of union representation and number of citizens incarcerated.

Which is why the current debate about continuing a war that was ill-conceived from the start, guaranteed to further diminish US "popularity" around the world, and is now considered unwise by a majority of American citizens is not a debate using the traditional tools of discourse and logic, but, rather, is a means of promoting US "image" for partisan purposes.

The unctuous phrase, "won't cut and run," is an example of the despair-inducing level of intellectual discourse in this regard. The phrase implies that any logical decision to withdraw from Iraq and effectively end the role of US troop presence in Iraq in inciting the violence there is, in actuality, an act of cowardice.

It's a bit like the fans of high school football telling the members of the chess club that football is a real game, and chess is just wimpy, and they're all really cowards because they won't play football. There's no point in the chess club telling the jocks and their fans that they're in the midst of yet another losing season and half their players are being arrested for criminal transgressions. It won't do a bit of good, because the fans that yell the loudest don't like the chess club any more than the jocks do.

The Repugs get to say, "we're not cowards," when that was never a part of the equation. Leaving Iraq, in fact, is not about cowardice or bravery, but, rather, is about not continuing to be as stupid as the Repugs' stupid leader. A majority of the country now thinks that invading Iraq was a stupid idea. The rest of the world knew it was a stupid idea before we did it. The fans of the jocks, few of them past football players themselves, consider themselves experts in the game, and are adamant that "courage" and a desire not to "cut and run" are all that is required for a planless game to succeed. Meanwhile, the players are being taken off the field on stretchers at a steady rate, hundreds of yards of penalties are being racked up, the game is now into its twelve-hundredth overtime because the score is still 0-0. The attempts to win the game have been so expensive that the rest of the school has ground to a standstill. The lights are on over the ballfield, but they've been turned out in the locker room. The referees have been picked off by sniper fire and have gone home. And throughout the town, the people are getting thoroughly fucking fed up with football, but, if they say so, the cheerleaders are threatening the townspeople with bodily harm for not supporting that planless game that is no closer to being won now than it was from its inception.

The principal is in a deep fog. The assistant principal is still trying to turn a buck on the side on the refreshment stand proceeds. The coach is sending in plays from the bench that no one on the team understands or has practiced. Former quarterbacks are sending nasty letters to the editor of the local paper saying that the coach stinks. The principal's secretary is out buying shoes and the principal is raising money for the team's victory celebration when a storm hits the school and tears off half the roof. Students are going to class in temporary trailers, but the game goes on.

But, we just can't "cut and run." It would be bad for our "image." The Repugs have to have things exactly the way they want them, or we won't be "popular" any more. If they aren't allowed to keep the game going, we won't be loved by everyone in the world. The jocks and the Heathers think the whole world loves them, because that's what they've been telling themselves all the time they've been in high school.

Funny thing about reality. It still intrudes, whether one accepts it or not.


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